There’s More for Concern than the Prick of the Lance

B908 hirez

Now that I’ve encountered 5 confirmed forgeries and 2 suspected ones of the same linocut, more than I’ve seen of any other print outside of the Vollard Suite, I thought you might want to know about it.  The print in question is “Pique, Rouge et Jaune” (“Lance, Red and Yellow”, Bloch 908).  I came across the two that are merely suspect years ago, before I knew exactly what to look for.  But one of them was in the shop of a dealer convicted of (unwittingly) selling forgeries, and its price was too low.  The other was such a bad impression like I’ve never seen in a real linocut, with large swaths of the image incompletely covered with ink.  (A similarly poor impression is currently at auction at the time of this writing and is clearly forged.)

There is a silver lining–or two:  First, none of these was in the hands of a reputable auction or private dealer.  (The first poor impression referenced above was in a gallery with which I have had no personal experience and can’t fully judge its reputation.)  Second, the distinction between the forgeries and the real thing is satisfyingly trivial, if you just know what to look for.  But since you, dear reader, might not, I thought I’d not only alert you to the prevalence of these forgeries, but also show you how to identify them for yourself.  Ordinarily, I don’t publish such tips, for fear that they’ll fall into the wrong hands, but in this case, the discrepancies can’t be corrected for, because they reflect an apparently inherent limitation in the resolution of the reproductive process.  Also, I’ll reveal just enough so that you can positively identify the forgeries from photographs alone, without discussing several other types of discrepancies, some of which would be more apparent upon direct inspection.  You would need to compare a print in question either to the real thing or, barring that, to a good photo.  Even the smallish photo in Baer is good enough for this purpose, and Kramer will do but is not great.  Just compare the prints, or photos thereof, side-by-side, focusing on the details of each, and see if there are variances between the two.  You will find numerous fine distinctions if one is a forgery, but here’s just one example of what I mean (first, side-by-side close-ups for orientation, then further magnified close-ups for detailed analysis):

B908 best side-by-side
Copy                                       Original

B908 forgery close-up
Copy, further magnified

B908 orig. close-up
Original, further magnified

Note the “O”-shaped structure at the tip of the lance–it’s fluffy on top in the actual print but smooth in the forgery.  The “O” is also much more uniform in width than in the original.  There are additional discrepancies just in these close-ups, let alone the remainder of the prints, which should be obvious once you start looking.

Another caveat: just because a print you’re examining doesn’t resemble the above forgery doesn’t mean it’s real.  There are at least two different forgeries.  Theoretically, there could be more than two, but I have seen (and photographically archived) two forgeries which differ from each other, as well as from the original, in their details.  Logically, a print you’re examining must resemble the original in detail if it is real itself.

There are certainly other forged linocuts on the market.  The source of the first forged Pique I encountered had consigned a number of lesser linos to a Parisian auction, which succeeded in selling most of them.  I’ve however seen only forged “one offs” of other linos.  My experience could certainly be skewed.  Nonetheless, particular caution is warranted when shopping for this bright red-and-yellow linocut masterpiece. (See http://ledorfineart.com/B908_La_Pique.html for a discussion of the artwork itself.)

Bazinga!

1905 Garçon a la pipe

A couple of days ago I was offered Garçon à la Pipe, the Rose Period oil which, if you don’t know, sold for $104.1 in 2004, at the time the highest-price work ever sold at auction.  Just another mundane episode in the life of a two-bit art dealer.  Usually I just roundfile these emails, but this time on a lark I decided to indulge the sender. Here’s an exact transcript of the ensuing correspondence, apart from redacting the vendor’s name:

Dear Mr Ledor:  We represent some owners of Master Pieces of the most relevant contemporary artist. Now we have the opportunity of offer you one of the most important Fine Arts of Picasso directly for you.  If you have a real interest, let me know to send you more details.  Best Regards, IM, Spain

Thank you!  Please send me photos and net dealer’s prices of all your Picassos.  Saludos, Dr. Kobi Ledor

Dear Kobi:  First of all I want to asked you for discretion and confidentiality.  I am offering this opportunity to you because I found out that you are a lover of Picasso and we want this Masterpiece will belong to one lover of Picasso.  Let´s start with one of the most famous paint of Pablo.Garçon à la pipe.  I send you a brief presentation of the paint and some comments from the last auction.  If you think you can sell this to some of your clients or from yourself , let me know to start the process of pricing and so on.  This could be a very big deal and we have to address this carefully.  Thank you very much and we keep in touch.  IM

That’s one of my favorites.  I’ll buy it myself.  Would 500,000 euros be enough?  I’m ready to wire the funds mañana.  Thanks, Kobi

Sorry, I left off 3 zeros.  I meant 500,000,000 euros.  Please send me your bank wire instructions.  Kobi

Good evening Doctor.  Are you really interested?  Thank you a lot, IM

I found your address and have already sent you the money.  You’re welcome.  Kobi

Dear Kobi.  Thank you very much for your interest.  If you have a real interest and you want to pay 500 million of Euros for this work art, please confirm and today I will talk with lawyers to make you the reservation letter and I will talk with my customer to confirm the price and start the process.  Please send me a formal letter with your official offer

 Dear kobi..  It seems very strange.  We have our procedures and I do not know about what money you are talking about.  Please explain me everything,otherwise we can not consider your proposal seriously.  Best regards

It’s simple.  Let me know when the 500,000,000 euros I sent you have arrived, and I’ll let you know where to ship the painting.  Kobi

Dear Kobi, The process is the following: 1-You send me a letter of intend, 2-I present your offer to my client, 3.If he agrees, I let you know and I send you all the details of the paint,certificates and everything., 4-we make the transaction, you pay and we send the paint to you.  Now I can not accept receive the money in front because first of all I don’t have the OK of my customer.  Also where and how did you send the money?  I guess you have a lot of experience in art deals and I don’t think you take such a big risk to pay this amount of money without any warranty.  Please stop everything and let’s do everything following my instruction.  This is not a fake,we have customer and he has the authentic paint ,but we need to do things properly.  I will refuse the payment.  Best Regards

What’s the matter?  Is it not enough money?  OK, OK, enough already.  It’s a holiday here today but I’ll send you another 500,000,000 tomorrow.  I promise!  Please don’t sell to anyone else.  After all, I’ve already paid–at least half!  Kobi

Kobi I repeat is not about the money.  You know better than me the value of this paint.  It is about the procedure.  Can we talk now?  Give me your phone number

Dear Doctor.  The quantity of 500 million is more than enough.  I will talk with my client and let you know ok?  Don’t send me more money.

Dear Dr. Kobi Ledor.   I attach you the letter of intend , you to send me signed and stamped.  Also, I need your passport.  I send you in Word format you to complete, if you want to add something.  Once U have this I will talk with my client, to try to close the deal.  Best Regards

OK, I get it now.  It’s not about the money.  It’s about finding that boy a good home. Well I assure you mine is.  And I have no problem with sending you my passport since I’ll never need to travel again.  I’ll be happy to just sit and stare at him all day long.   Thanks, Kobi

Kobi: One question, I read in your blog that this paint is not one of the best of Picasso for you and also you know how much they pay in the Sothebys auction last 2004.  But now you want to pay 5 times that price …what is the reason?  I need a copy of your passport, not your passport my friend.  You will travel to Spain because if we close the deal I will invite you here to show the best museum from Madrid.  Best Regards

Hi!  Just to update you, since you said you would not accept my payment, I have cancelled the check and have already bought another equal Picasso.  That’s enough action for one week, as I like to proceed slowly.  But by next week I’ll be back in the market, so if you could offer Guernica to me at a reasonable price, you’d have a deal.  Thanks for your understanding, Kobi

It is a pity because I was talking with the owners to try to convince them for you.  In fact they are almost convinced but you know that we have only one shot.  This paint is unique because is the only one…it is not a fake is not a copy…  Please reconsider, otherwise you probably lose the opportunity.

 

Anatomy of an Art Fraud on eBay

In view of the chap who just pled guilty to selling fake Picassos on eBay (see, for example, yesterday’s NY Times online article, “Chicago Man Admits He Sold Bogus Picassos on eBay”, which begins as follows, “A suburban Chicago man pleaded guilty Tuesday to swindling at least 250 people out of more than $1 million through the sale of counterfeit prints advertised as the work of Pablo Picasso and other major contemporary artists”, I thought I’d post an exchange I had with another eBay seller some time ago, as follows, beginning with the email that first drew me in.  (This is a long exchange rife with more detail than you might wish.  But, if you don’t mind my saying so, whenever you’re considering a purchase, this is the kind of detail your due diligence ought to unearth.)

anatomy of an art fraud on eBay

Dear Kobi, How fortunate for me to come across your Forum.  I was actually considering bidding on a “hand-signed PICASSO with Certificate and Provenance” this evening.  If you’re interested in viewing the listing that almost had me, it is eBay #________.  I suspect most individuals wouldn’t have taken the time to do some basic online fact checking.  The paper size is indeed different from the one listed at the Picasso Project as you suggest.  There is a small fortune changing hands just in the pursuit of a signed print from the Vollard Suite on eBay.  Imagine the amount for all Picasso’s!  With sincere gratitude, Richard

Dear Richard, Actually, this episode is so funny that it’s worth blogging.  Bolliger published a book in Germany in 1956 of the identical dimensions as stated on eBay for the print for sale.  It seems that the seller just tore a page out of Bolliger!  The only thing I can’t account for is the missing page number….  Best wishes, Kobi

At this point (this is Kobi speaking), I sent the following message to the seller, and the following interchange ensued:

Q: Are you aware that this print is not an original print by Picasso? The original was an etching of a different size than you describe. I believe your print was torn out of Bolliger’s book, which dimensions it fits perfectly. Did you know that? Thanks

A: This print was not torn out of Bolliger’s book. I have his book and I can tell the difference. For one thing the type and weight of the paper is radically different. I never implied that this was from a first original edition which, if signed, would list for over $10,000. However, I’m happy to exchange any form of information which you desire about the artist, his publisher, his printers, and his editions. Thank you for your email.

Q: I am an expert in Picasso prints.  You should be aware that there is no “original” German edition, as some fraudsters have claimed.  In fact, there is no original edition of any Vollard Suite prints other than the impressions published by Vollard.  Any other editions are not original in any sense of the term, as they were not created by Picasso in any direct way, other than someone reproducing his design.  Are you aware of the accuracy of all of my assertions?  Finally, are you aware that the signature is forged?

A: Please send me your name and credentials. I would like to further discuss this with you. I am not trying to be antagonistic when I pose this question back to you: Are you, kobiledor, aware that Vollard published none of the so-called Vollard Suite prints? He died shortly after Picasso completed the commission. The copper plates were never printed to paper before 1950. And then, they had been sold to separate parties (not printed by the Vollard estate.)  I have a lot more information on this which is verifiable in a number of the most impeccable art history reference books. However, I do understand that even textbooks can have erroneous entries. So, please share your sources of information with me which support your assertations [sic].  I disagree that the signature is forged. I have addressed your other assertations [sic] in a direct response to the email which was sent from you separately. Before we continue this dialogue, which consists mainly, as I see it, of hostile accusations, I would like to know who you are and specifically what your credentials are.

Q: I do not intend my questions to be laced with hostility.  I am simply in favor of honesty in the marketplace.  My credentials are that I have studied and collected Picasso and particularly his prints for many years, and I own a nearly exhaustive library consisting of all his important catalogues raisonées.  Again, I mean no offense, but your last two emails are rife with misinformation.  What is not entirely clear to me is whether this results from your honest mistakes or  an actual intention to misinform.  On the chance that you intend to misinform your clients, I would prefer not to further address your factual errors for fear that you would accordingly adapt your captions in order to further mask the lack of originality of your offerings.  If, on the other hand, you are honestly in search of an education in order that your allegations stick closer to the truth, please then prove your intentions to me, and then I’ll be happy to reconsider sharing the facts with you.  Please note that eBay classifies your Vollard as an original hand-signed Picasso in its first line.  It is none of these things.  In order to be an honest dealer, it is incumbent upon you to accurately describe who and how made your print.  To say that its provenance is directly traceable to Picasso is ludicrous.  I only can hope that the many mistakes you have made are honest ones, but your choice of words and phrases seem so crafty as to make me fear the worst.  Please pardon me if I have misjudged you, but I tend to doubt it.  Best wishes.

That was the end of the correspondence. 

The following is the eBay listing, with the identity of the seller omitted, and with my italicized annotations:

Listed in category:Art > Prints > Contemporary (1950-Now) > Limited Editions > Original Hand-signed PICASSO with Certificate and Provenance
Comment: Here is the first mention that the print is “original”, though just below, note that the vendor left blank the “Original/Repro” question that eBay poses.

NO RESERVE – Beautiful Framing worth $500+
Type: Modern – Limited Edition
Signed?: Signed
Comment: The signature is a forgery.  Not only does it not resemble any of Picasso’s signatures, but the only prints of the Vollard Suite which were signed in red, 3 impressions out of a total edition including all artist’s proofs, of 321, were printed on parchment.

Medium: Lithograph
Comment: None of the original prints of The Vollard Suite were lithographs.  Every one was an intaglio print, usually an etching. Any other print depicting a Vollard Suite image is a worthless fake with a forged signature.

Original/Repro: — [left blank]
  No Reserve!  
This is the last lithograph that I have from this limited edition.  All of the others have been sold.  This is one of Picasso’s most treasured lithographs made from the Vollard Suite etchings (plate #79).  A wonderful collector’s item with Certificate of Authenticity from the original gallery and Provenance going back to Picasso.
Comment: COA’s aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on, if you don’t know and trust their author, and the provenance is untrue, as this fake could not have gone back to Picasso, as he had nothing to do with fake Vollard Suite prints.

This piece was printed in 1956 in Germany. But the lines are so fine and crisp that this looks like the original etching pulled from the copper plate. Ambroise Vollard commissioned Picasso to make these etchings in 1930.  There were 100 individual drawings (all etched onto copper plates) and the last one was completed in 1937. Unfortunately, Vollard died in an auto accident before they could be printed on paper and the copper plates were subsequently purchased by a European art dealer.  It wasn’t until 1950 that the first pieces were printed on paper and signed.
Comment: Actually, the entire original edition was published in 1939 by Lacouriere in Paris.

This piece, offered for sale now, was published in Germany in 1956 by the famed art historian and publisher Hans Bolliger.
Comment: Hans Bolliger wrote the introduction for a book of photographs of the entire Vollard Suite, which was in fact published in Germany in 1956.  But, to my knowledge, he had nothing to do with producing a counterfeit German “edition” of these images.

•    Title: Two Women – Paris, January 29, 1934.
Comment:  The title is wrong, but never mind.

•    Signature and Inscription:  Hand-signed in red grease pencil by Picasso (lower right) after the print was pulled.  Guaranteed authentic.  Picasso also inscribed the copper plate with the location and date when he made the original etching on copperplate. This inscription was etched in the Continental dateform: Paris 29 Janvrier [sic] XXXIV (lower left corner).
•    Publisher/Printer: Hans Bolliger, Germany, 1956
•    Condition:   Excellent with some uniform age toning of the paper. This does not detract from the beauty of this piece. There are no rips, no tears, no faxing [sic] or other stains.
•    Frame:  Professionally mounted and framed in a lovely classic style gilt wood frame.    Ready to hang.
•    Guarantee:   30 Day Unconditional Guarantee from date you receive your artwork.  No Questions asked! Also, the AUTHENTICITY IS GUARANTEED FOR LIFE.
Great, but the authenticity of what is he guaranteeing?  Of a German “edition” of this print, or of an original print by Picasso?  The vendor reveals his answer in his response to my first email.
•    Certificate of Authenticity:  I acquired this and other pieces from a European art gallery who provided me with a COA and also stated the Provenance (history of ownership).  That original COA, my Transfer of Ownership papers and all details of the publishing and printing will be provided to the auction winner.
•    Dimensions:  The paper measures about 11″ x 8-3/8″.  The frame is about 18″ x 21″ (exterior dimensions).
The size of the paper does not correspond with the original etching.
Check out my feedback!  More than 395 individual Ebayers have left me 600+ feedbacks.  I’ve been registered with Ebay for over 5 years and have worked hard to provide quality service.  Most of my business is from repeat customers who have been pleased with the high quality framing. Following are some examples which can be verified by reading my complete feedback.
+ Excellent Seller.  Product in excellent condition. Thanks.
+ A really classy Ebayer. Professional, meticulous, honest, great communicator
+ Simply the best Ebayer that I have traded with.  Exceeded all my expectations.
+ Friendly contact, rapid dispatch, good packed.
+ Great transaction.  Hope to buy again from this ebayer. A++++++
+ Perfecto. Articulo con COA.  Vendedor muy amable y altamente recomendable.
Insurance is included with all shipping rates! Discounted shipping for multiple orders!
Terms of Guarantee for Individual Buyers: Complete satisfaction guaranteed. No questions asked for return within 30 (thirty) days of receipt.  No restocking fee.
Terms of Guarantee for Art Dealers (or those who buy art for resale):  Satisfaction guaranteed.  Returns accepted within 3 (three) days of receipt.  25% restocking fee.
Please visit my other auctions and my Ebay Store often!  I’m a private collector, preparing for retirement, and I’m liquidating my collection.  These are art pieces that I’ve lovingly collected and will try to supply literary references from my extensive art library as best I can.  If you have questions please email me, but please understand that all of my art will be sold on Ebay and I will not be selling artwork privately.  I have many signed and dated lithographs.  Hand-signed and numbered lithographs.  Pencil signed lithos. Serigraphs.  Dry Point Etchings.  And some exquisite aquatints and original drawings by the 20th century masters. Good luck bidding & thank you for visiting my auction!
I have a 30 day “no questions asked” return policy. auction. No reason need be given for the return. It’s a money back refund, using the same method payment was made to me. The 30 days begins when you receive everything associated with the transaction (including gallery certificates,etc.). Returns should be securely packed & insured. I will process a refund immediately after the item is received & inspected. You may return an item by any method that is convenient for you, but it’s better to ask me about your method in advance. Not every carrier delivers to my remote rural location & this can involve a delay. Shipping charges are not refunded. If you have questions about any aspect of my refund policy please send me an email. My goal is to have you be a happy customer! Most of my business is through repeat customers.
Feedback Score: 398
Positive Feedback: 100%

Comment: As far as I know, eBay scores are credible.  So as many as 398 unsuspecting Picasso lovers or investors have been fleeced on eBay, and that’s just by this vendor alone.

There were two bids on this lot.  The winning bid was $202.50. The winning bidder’s User ID was kept private.

THE DOCTORS, THE DENTISTS, & THE DIRTY DEALS: PiCostco, A Slight Return

Last week my six-year-old came home from school loaded up with books from the school book fair but nonetheless wanting to Amazon another, How to Read People’s Minds.  Now, among other considerations, I try to evaluate my kids’ “needs” (they always classify their wants as such) through the prism of educational merit.  From that perspective, this request was an easy one to accept.   Much of one’s success in life is supposed to be related to EQ (emotional intelligence), of which understanding other people plays a large part.  (Dubya is supposed to have had it in spades, though, personally, I’d rather have a beer with Barack any day of the week.  And, anyway, if I were imbibing with Dubya, I’d request a chardonnay, just to get under his skin….)

It may be difficult to read other people’s minds, but, paradoxically, it may be almost as challenging to fathom our own. We may think we can, but a growing body of literature supports the conclusion that our thoughts and actions are governed by a self largely unknown to us, a reptilian brain buried deep beneath our consciousness that controls us in a manner we can’t perceive and guides our actions in ways we don’t understand.  This, unfortunately, is just as true in the arena of collecting art as it is in gathering grain or finding a mate.  Of late a number of books and articles have appeared that help elucidate these mysterious forces.  I’d like to recommend a couple of them to you, not only for their general interest, but to save you from taking a costly wrong turn while hunting and gathering.

The need for self-awareness is palpable.  I receive inquiries to evaluate the authenticity of Picassos on an almost daily basis, typically ones on eBay but also from storefront galleries and websites.   Call it a coincidence, but the last two collectors that I successfully steered away from buying eBay fakes were both dentists.  However, the third collector, a doctor, didn’t fare so well.  The doctor had recently approached me for an opinion on a bon à tirer,  the handwriting of which, to my eye, didn’t look right.  The dealer had a bunch of these bon à tirer impressions from the same illustrated book.  The doctor, while toying with due diligence, unearthed a second bon à tirer of one of these prints in the Online Picasso Project.  Its signature and inscription were clearly by a different hand, and, in this case, the online handwriting looked right to me. Needless to say, there can be but one bon à tirer impression for any print. A smoking gun, wouldn’t you say?  I figured that that was the end of the deal.  No question–the good doctor would take his money and run.  Next thing I know he’s bought the bon à tirer, paying about 10x its unsigned value.   His reasoning?  A well-known dealer would not be selling bad prints. He added, “No gallery could survive the scandal of advertising a whole suite of fakes on the web, don’t you think?”   Right.

And it’s not just collectors—even dealers aren’t exempt from the tug of the irrational.  My latest example: just last week a private art dealer whom I hadn’t seen in years brought over two sets of well-heeled clients to look at our Picassos.  What had suddenly inspired him?  For one thing, we had recently acquired a print that one of the women had lusted after for years.  But the underlying reason was his astrologer, who had foretold that he was going to make a killing this month.  (Need I remind you I live in California?)  The dealer arrived fairly certain that this was going to be his best month ever.  So far, nothing, but I remain confident, since astrologers are always right.

Artists are human, too.  It may not matter as much, but of course Picasso himself was famously superstitious.  Olivier Widmaier Picasso, his grandson and apologist (a rather convincing one, to my mind) who dispels the myths about Picasso one chapter at a time, devotes one of the final chapters of Picasso: The Real Family Story to the unavoidable concession that his gramps was indeed a very superstitious man.

Of course all of this only applies to other people, but not to you or me.   Thankfully, irrationality is only the next guy’s problem.  And there’s the danger….  So maybe a homework assignment is in order.  For an excellent review of the research into the unconscious written in layman’s terms, try Strangers to Ourselves (2004), by Prof. Timothy D. Wilson, who makes his basic point in his title.  He presents the accrued wisdom of this field, which unlike Freud, has resulted from rigorous experimental science.  What’s at least as interesting as his theme is the many ingenious experimental designs which psychologists have devised to interrogate the unconscious.  After all, you can’t very well ask it a straight question or expect a straight answer.

Moving a bit closer to our subject, I would wholeheartedly recommend the NY Times bestseller, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior (2008) by Ori and Rom Brafman as well as Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape our Decisions (2009) by Dan Ariely, both hilarious, if scary, reads.  But I fear this rant is getting dangerously close to exceeding your rant capacity, so I’ll spare you the book reviews and move on to the home stretch.

Four years later, I am still haunted by one particular instance of buyer’s irrationality, the bizarre ending of the PiCostco saga, the fake Picassos that Costco sold around four years ago (see http://ledorfineart.com/blog/?p=11 and http://ledorfineart.com/blog/?p=42 ).  To remind you, apart from the surprising news that Costco was in the business of selling ostensibly fine art, what I found to be the most amazing thing about it was that the two hapless buyers did not take Costco up on its offer to fully refund the $35-40,000 that each of them had shelled out for their fake drawings.  I remain baffled that the buyers (one of whom, wouldn’t you know it, was another MD) would not wish to part with their worthless (and ugly!) Picassos.  A recent essay in The New Yorker entitled Status-Quo Anxiety by James Surowiecki (August 31, 2009) shed a bit of light on this conundrum, despite the fact that he intended it as a commentary on the health-care debate.

Surowiecki writes, “The mere fact that you own something leads you to overvalue it. A simple demonstration of this was an experiment in which some students in a class were given coffee mugs emblazoned with their school’s logo and asked how much they would demand to sell them, while others in the class were asked how much they would pay to buy them. Instead of valuing the mugs similarly, the new owners of the mugs demanded more than twice as much as the buyers were willing to pay. The academics Ziv Carmon and Dan Ariely showed the same thing in a real-world experiment: posing as ticket scalpers, they phoned people who had entered a raffle to win tickets to a Duke basketball game. People who hadn’t won tickets were willing to pay, on average, a hundred and seventy dollars to get into the game. But those who had won tickets wanted twenty-four hundred dollars to part with them. In other words, those who had, by pure luck, won the tickets thought the ducats were fourteen times as valuable as those who hadn’t.”

This analysis doesn’t factor in the profit motive, but never mind.  It calls to  our attention the pride of ownership, which could  be a more pernicious psychological force than we may have thought.  And it’s not just pride.  Whenever I have succeeded in acquiring a work of art, I have bought it because I valued it higher than everyone else—otherwise someone else would have bought it sooner or paid more (or both).  Now I may think that I’ve valued it reasonably, but have I really?   Pride of ownership, or whatever it is, is not to be underestimated.

What is called for is a catchy term that expresses the opposite of buyer’s remorse, since it seems even more prevalent, and arguably much more dangerous to our pocketbooks.  Buyer’s bliss?  Collector’s complacency?  Shopper’s satisfaction?  Pick the one you like or choose your own, whatever it takes to keep it in mind.

A little short on EQ myself, I am finally beginning to realize that I ought to keep my thoughts to myself, or at least that imparting them to you in this less direct manner might not be as offensive.  I imagine it wouldn’t surprise you that the PiCostco doctor did not like hearing my unsolicited advice.   We have not stayed in touch.  As for the bon à tirer doctor, his parting comments were, “Thanks for these emails.  They are interesting.  I’m currently enjoying the Picasso.  I am planning to bring it in to an appraiser pretty soon though.”

Reprints

Question while I ponder my next purchase: the Picasso Museum has the Vollard plates, right? So why don’t they make a new edition? -Pam L.

A Gumshoe on Costco’s Tail

The NY Times today ran an update to the fake Picassos at Costco caper (note my earlier blog dated March 16, 2006, for the full story), which reported that the third and final Picasso which Costco had put up for sale (it sold two and withdrew one) was also deemed a fake by Maya Picasso. Today’s story contained the following hilarious footnote about Jim Tutwiler, the art dealer who had supplied Costco with the fakes: “Mr. Tutwiler refused to comment about Dr. Zhang’s drawing, saying he had been asked by Costco not to speak about the issue. But he did say that he had hired a private detective to investigate Ms. Widmaier-Picasso. In an e-mail message to Dr. Zhang in 2004 shortly before the physician bought the drawing, Mr. Tutwiler referred to Ms. Widmaier-Picasso as ‘the world’s utmost authority on the work of her father.’ But in an interview this week he described her as unreliable.”

Fake Picassos at Costco (Reported in the NY Times)

Costco FakeThe following article was brought to my attention by Richard with an attached message, “for your amusement”:

It’s Costco, but Is It Picasso? Art Sale in Doubt

By CAROL KINO

From diamonds to dog food to Dom Pérignon Champagne, Costco is known as an astute marketer of high and low. Recently, it even ventured into the rarefied world of Picasso, selling a crayon drawing at its Web site for a bargain $39,999.99.

The buyer, Louis Knickerbocker, a meat distributor from Newport Beach, Calif., had never fancied himself a big-league collector. But as he was cruising to work in his sport utility vehicle one day, a radio news report about the Costco offering roused him to action.

Mr. Knickerbocker, 39, quickly called his wife, Diana, on his cellphone and asked her to race to the Web site and charge the purchase to his American Express card.

“They just sell the top quality — whatever you buy at Costco, whether it’s a washing machine or a vacuum cleaner,” he said in an interview. “I just thought, if it’s a Picasso, you can’t go wrong.”

“Worst-case scenario, we can always return it,” he recalls telling his wife.

Actually, the worst-case scenario may be that the drawing is not a Picasso — an assertion that has Costco scrambling to live up to its consumer-friendly image.

The work, “Drawing Arles,” depicting a faun, came ready-to-hang in a gold frame; the store even provided a photographic certificate of authenticity signed by Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso, who also authenticates his works for auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

But as Mr. Knickerbocker discovered this week, navigating Costco’s fine-art offerings can be a tricky business. Interviewed in Paris by The New York Times on Tuesday, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso, 70, said the certificate was forged.

As of Tuesday, a Picasso drawing titled “Picador in a Bullfight” was being offered at Costco’s Web site for a much steeper $145,999.99 — also with an authentication certificate bearing Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s name. Bristling at a grammatical error in French and the spiky handwriting, she pronounced that document a forgery as well.

“It’s not at all my way of expressing myself,” she said in an interview, referring to the wording of the certificate. Peering at the signature, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso added, “It’s really ugly, really really.”

The artist’s daughter, 70, also cast doubt on the authenticity of the drawings. “My father knew that bulls have two testicles, in addition to something very masculine,” she said impishly, referring to the bull.

Contacted about Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s remarks, Liz Elsner, a vice president for merchandising for Costco’s Web site division, said the company would promptly investigate. “Obviously we’re very concerned with what you’re telling us,” she said. She emphasized that, as with all Costco merchandise, Mr. Knickerbocker was free to return the artwork.

A few hours later, the bullfight drawing had been removed from Costco’s Web site.

Ms. Elsner emphasized that Costco had the Picassos independently verified by Jerry Bengis, an art appraiser in Coral Springs, Fla., who specializes in Dali prints. (Reached by telephone, Mr. Bengis said he provided documentation stating only that the certificates were consistent with others issued by Ms. Widmaier-Picasso.)

Ms. Elsner said the two Picassos were provided by reputable dealers with whom Costco has done business since it entered the fine-art market. The vendor is Jim Tutwiler of Boca Raton, Fla., who bought them from Rick Yamet, a fine-art vendor in Peekskill, N.Y.

Told of Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s contention, Mr. Tutwiler said, “Are you serious?” and quickly provided Mr. Yamet’s telephone number.

Mr. Yamet said he obtained the drawings from a partner in Rome. “I’m beside myself,” he said. “Of course I have to take them back, and I have to go back to the source I got them from and get my money back.”

When buying Picassos accompanied by his daughter’s certificate, he said, he routinely has Ms. Widmaier-Picasso examine the certificate, he said. He said he had faxed the certificates for both Picassos to her, but this time she had not responded.

“I was getting no response for months and months. It became like an exercise in futility,” Mr. Yamet said. So an associate of his in Rome showed the drawings and certificates unofficially to an expert at Christie’s in Paris, who gave them a verbal nod, he said.

“This is terrible for my reputation,” he said, sounding distraught. “Costco’s not responsible, of course.”

Costco, which entered the fine-art market in 2003, sells artworks both through its Web site and at scattered road shows around the country, many of them conducted by Mr. Tutwiler. The shows are handled by two separate corporate divisions, and the vendors and artworks are always changing.

Although most of the headlines have been generated by last year’s Picasso sale, Costco’s current fine-art offerings seem to boil down to lithographs. In print circles, that can mean anything from an offset reproduction of a painting — in other words, a poster — to the sort of genuine “original print” that an established dealer might handle; that is, a work of art conceived as a lithograph from the start and produced in a limited edition. At press time, there was nothing of that nature on Costco’s site.

Of course, neophyte collectors — the type that Costco is likely to attract — may often lack experience in determining what gives an artwork market value. While Costco provides a phone number at its Web site for the vendor of each work of art so that prospective buyers can question the consigners directly, it is hard for an inexperienced collector to seek out those specific earmarks — a good provenance, inclusion in a catalogue raisonné, for example.

For the art world cognoscenti, the authentication affair may seem a tempest in a teapot, given the abundance of scrawled Picasso doodles, real and fake, to be found in galleries on every continent. And art scholars have long debated whether Ms. Widmaier-Picasso should be in the business of authentication.

Still, in reviewing the certificates in her apartment on the Quai Voltaire, she was emphatic about their falsity. She described the wording on the bullfight certificate, for instance, as strangely unfamiliar.

“I would have said, ‘In my opinion, I can certify that this drawing in pencil on paper measuring 12 by 24 centimeters representing a scene from a bullfight — I would put in more details concerning what’s on the actual drawing — is a work in the hand of my father.’

“On the same line, I would have written, for example, ‘ “Paris, le 14 mars,’ and I spell out the month. My lines always run from the far left to the far right, and there is no break between paragraphs.”

On the back of the certificate, Ms. Widmaier-Picasso applies a sticker marked with one or more of her fingerprints. “I could also use my entire hand if I wanted to,” she said. She then applies an embossed seal over the sticker and staples the sticker to the photograph. She said she always keeps a record of which finger she used for each authentication.

Of Mr. Knickerbocker’s certificate, she said: “I never, ever, ever write a date this way, with slashes, I don’t even know how to! And I always spell the month out in letters, never in numbers.”

Ms. Widmaier-Picasso also chuckled at the misspellings — “soussigné,” the masculine form of “undersigned,” instead of the feminine “soussignée,” and “cette dessin,” rather than the correct “ce dessin.” (“Dessin,” the French word for drawing, is masculine.)

But for Costco and its customer, who is much attached to his $40,000 doodle, it is no laughing matter.

Mr. Knickerbocker expressed skepticism about Ms. Widmaier-Picasso’s reaction to the drawings and the certificates.

“Seeing as she signed a lot of those things, who knows how many years ago, I’m not surprised if she’s going to say that it’s fake unless she has it in front of her,” he said. (Ms. Widmaier-Picasso viewed printouts of high-resolution digital photographs of the drawings and certificates.)

Mr. Knickerbocker, who once bought his wife a two-carat diamond ring at Costco, said he remains a loyal customer and that for now he has no plans to return the drawing.

“I think a lot of times with this, especially with art — high-end, number one — I’m sure that the art galleries hate that Costco’s selling art,” he reflected.

“I would still feel just as comfortable buying from Costco — even more so than buying from one of the other dealers — because I know that Costco stands behind what they sell.”

CRUISE SHIP ART AUCTIONS

Dear Kobi, While on a cruise ship last month we purchased what was represented as an original Picasso lithograph signed by Picasso. We asked to see a Picasso catalogue while on the ship, but the auctioneer did not have one. We purchased a Dali piece that was listed in the Dali catalogue and the auctioneer seemed genuine, so we decided to also purchase Le Clown, since their art firm had a written guarantee. I forgot about looking in a Picasso catalog until this week. When I couldn’t find the piece I contacted the art wholesaler and was told the piece was printed after a drawing donated to the Paris Peace Movement in 1968 and published the same year by Yamat Arts, NY and printed by Mourlot.

Since I can’t find the piece in the Picasso Project or in the Block catalogue Le Clown seems very suspicious to me. I came across your forum from the Picasso Project and after reading your comments and your web site I would really appreciate your thoughts on Le Clown. Once we get Le Clown settled I’d like to check with you on some other pieces we have an interest in. We are new to collecting art, and the more we learn the more we like Chagall, Calder, Miro, Dali and Picasso.

Thank you, Sharon T.

Dear Sharon, I have a weak spot for anyone who gets “taken” on a cruise ship. I do a fair number of appraisals and I’ve come across many instances of so-called art that was sold on cruises. I have occasionally encountered an original work of art by Picasso that exchanged hands in that venue. But the buyer ends up, without exception in my experience, with an overpriced print, a fake, or both.

The salient term describing your purchase is “after”. If you read Chapter 13, entitled “Collecting Pitfalls”, in my online manuscript A Guide to Collecting Picasso’s Prints, you should know all about them. Your piece is not original. The only questions are whether it’s a real “after”, i.e. a work of art created by an artist other than Picasso, or just a photoreproduction, and whether the work was actually signed by Picasso. Of course, the art dealer on the cruise was entirely fraudulent in initially claiming that the piece was an original Picasso. It is not an original Picasso in ANY sense of the word. You’re very astute to conclude that your piece is a fake since it’s not in Bloch. Very few original Picasso lithographs are not included in that catalogue, and those are generally exceptionally rare, not cruise ship material. -Kobi

The dual dangers of overpaying and of buying online

Dear Kobi, the article i read today [from your manuscript] was talking about the dangers of buying online and also the danger of paying too much for a work from a gallery because of overheads etc… this is a question i have asked myself for a while……which way to jump? take a risk online and buy hopefully a real and fair priced work or have a bit more piece of mind and buy from a brick and mortar gallery and in more cases than not pay too much for the work as they have great expenses like rent, staff, and their endless champagne and canapé parties.by online purchases i mean people such as yourself ( anyone who would even entertain buying a picasso for a second from ebay is clearly insane). are there other galleries such as yourself which you consider trustworthy, such as X or Y [names deleted]? i probably should not have asked that question because of the obvious conflict of interest but i hope you can forgive me and give me an honest opinion. thank you. i look forward to your reply. -Alessandro P.

Dear Alessandro, I’m delighted that you like my writing! Thanks so much for the positive feedback. And I agree entirely with your assessments and concerns. The only thing I would add is while you’re first developing a relationship with an art dealer, make sure you have enough time to check out the work with an impartial expert and the ability to return it without any reason. That includes potential purchases from me. I would feel better if you’ve had any works you might buy from us authenticated independently, because it serves both of our interests if you are confident that what you get from us is genuine.

I don’t personally know X, but I have spoken to him more than once and I have occasionally reviewed his inventory online. He clearly seems to have some authentic original prints by Picasso. They are intermixed with “afters”, but he identifies the “afters” as such, unlike some other dealers. I don’t know anything else about him or his business, but I have heard nothing bad.

The Y Gallery prints are fakes. The most obvious tip-off is that they’re the wrong sizes. As you start to delve more deeply into your research, you might benefit from purchasing at least the first volume of the catalogue raisonné of Picasso’s prints by Georges Bloch. It has all the right sizes, armed with which you could quickly discern most fakes. -Kobi

Dear Kobi, so is the online picasso project basically an online bloch? or does the bloch book give further information that the online project does not. i also look forward to viewing more of picassos work online as i think you have mentioned in earlier email that if i see a work that i really like you may be able to get it for me. -Alessandro P.

Dear Alessandro, Well, the Online Picasso Project (http://csdll.cs.tamu.edu:8080/picasso/) probably includes almost every Bloch number, but it also includes roughly a third of all of Picasso’s paintings, drawings, sculptures and ceramics, so it is a bit hard to wade through when you’re looking for a particular print or a particular Bloch number. It’s worth it, though, because the images are much larger than in Bloch. It doesn’t necessarily offer more information for any given print than does Bloch, but it may. Bloch is handy because all the prints are arranged in the numerical order assigned by Bloch as well as in chronological order. It’s also handy because it gives you a nice overview of Picasso’s prints without the distraction works in other media of the Online Picasso Project (OPP). Of course, the OPP is a wonderful resource, for which I am eternally grateful and which I consult on a daily basis.

I am of course happy to search for any Picassos you might want, naturally the best prices are usually of the ones we’ve already bought and which are already shown on our site. Those I’ve hunted down with attention to the price””when searching ad hoc for a particular print, the price might not be quite as low. Many particular prints are also very hard to find, as it happens especially when you’re looking for them, since the edition sizes of most Picasso prints are tiny (50 plus a few artist’s proofs). -Kobi

Fakes and fake letters of authenticity

Dear Kobi —

I appreciated your tales from Chapter 13 of the wonderful variety and diversity of Picasso fakes and fake letters of authenticity.

I assisted in the publicity regarding a bad guy named ABC, whom I exposed on my website www.milwaukeeworld.com for foisting some fake Picassos on the public. I was able to examine the fakes and the fake certificates of authenticity. You can learn a lot from forgeries, as you obviously know.

ABC did some time, but appears to be active in Florida. I have heard from many, many people who have either 1.) bought a fake and wish they had gone to my website first, or 2.) went to my website first and did not buy the fake.

I’m no expert, but some people seem staggeringly naive when it comes to art purchases. Yes, I’ve bought a few paintings and drawings (non-Picasso) when a bit liquored up, but I did my research beforehand.

Good luck with your projects.
Michael H

Dear Michael,

Thanks for the kind words. By the way, how is it that you perused our site if you don’t collect Picassos? -Kobi

Dear Dr. Ledor —
You certainly may post my stuff on your website Q&A section. If you go to my website and use the internal search engine for ABC, you’ll find a number of items I posted on the guy. I wrote about him on May 17, 2004, Oct 04, 2004, November 15, 2004, November 22 2004, January 3 2005, January 17, 2004 and March 28, 2005. He’s probably due for another one.

I got word this morning that the FBI is getting quite tired of ABC, and a special agent here in Milwaukee is itching to bring him down. The agent is James Doyle, and he has worked on art cases. (Check out what I wrote about DEF on Halloween. She’s doing time in Club Fed.)

I started writing art fraud / theft stories because of my interest in the subject. It occupies about a tenth of my space — public demand is high, and I feel like I am doing a service. Ostensibly I write about politics; I have been called a gossip columnist and I am ignored by talk radio. I am forever late writing history stories, for which there is a demand. I tell my editor, “history takes time.”

You might want to check out a guy named GHI. The daily papers ignored his crimes, and I wrote stuff on the website until they finally relented — way too late. Then I researched an article for Milwaukee Magazine that put him down for good. His biggest mistake — selling a stolen print to the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.
Don’t mess with Bud Selig! Sentencing is in May.

I’m tight with a number of dealers here (except the ones I send to jail). I’ve learned a few tricks that the forgers use, too. One dealer had a stash of 19c watermarked paper that could be converted into an original Whistler print in no time. I have a close affiliation with a Russian-born conservator Dmitri Rybchnikov (I think I messed up the spelling of his name.) He has an outfit called American Conservators, and he was the expert witness in the ABC trial. Not just fakes, but “laughable” fakes. His partner, Jeff Farkas, deals in paintings of various levels of quality, and his wife is a professor of Criminology, and was the teacher of FBI agent Doyle. I’ve got a Bierstadt in the office right now on loan from Jeff, who is trying to sell it on behalf of the owners. We’ve created a little gallery upstairs in my very large office space. I have no financial interest in it; it’s just fun to have this stuff around.

If you want to read some stories about rich people being wasteful with foundation money, read my stuff about the JKL Foundation, a local outfit with one of the finest collections of American furniture and decorative arts. These guys hate my guts. They did do a good show — Fakes from the JKL Collection. Great detective work.

You ask about my background — I studied art history and political science at Vassar College, where I was among the first male students. I also took studio courses and learned the techniques of wood and steel engraving, etching, aquatint, and even stone lithography. I spent my spare time going to museums and galleries to look at authentic works of art. I do not believe I have ever knowingly passed by a museum without entering. I’ve seen prints by the thousands, and still get excited by them. So, I can say stuff like, “Chagall’s later hand-colored works are inconsistent.” For crying out loud, Jackson Pollock applied pigment with more control than seen in Chagall’s later prints.

I came to writing quite late in life, having been turned down consistently until I lucked out at age 34 (1988) and they haven’t been able to shut me up since. I was also fortunate that some family friends were collectors. I saw my first Magrittes, Ernsts, Miros, Jasper Johnses in a private residence as a teenager. The portrait of the woman of the house was by Warhol. I remember her writing to Alexander Calder to get permission to repaint her Calder sculpture. I remember a David Smith sculpture from her back yard, and saw it in the National Gallery in October. Heady stuff!
I collect mostly drawings by Wisconsin artists. It’s a fun pursuit. I bought a $500 painting done by a local musician — it was the first painting he had sold, and I was tipsy for that one. I hung it in my house, and an art dealer noticed it and raved about my discovery.

I came rather late in life to the earning of an income (which does not come from writing, let me tell you). I am employed by Zigman Joseph Stephenson, an old-line Public Relations and Governmental Relations firm.

Just to finish my babbling, I am distressed by the gullibility of certain art purchasers and the rapacity of the fraudsters. There is so much decent art work, and so many legitimate dealers that I just cringe when an idiot buys junk from a thief. I think the true joy and value in collecting comes from knowing about what you are buying. It just astounds me that people will spend thousands on an item that upon cursory examination is not right. I would happily be fooled by a good fake, but I am insulted by cheap fakes.

If I may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Very truly yours,
Michael H

Dear Michael,

You are truly hilarious, not to mention an altruist. But I have now calculated, based upon your figures, that I am one year older than you, so I hope you start treating me with greater respect. I must say that you made a much wiser decision in going to Vassar just after it went co-ed than my opting to attend Yale right after it underwent the same transformation. The difference was that yours was a predominantly female student body with a few curious boys and mine a predominantly male student body with a few heavily picked-over girls. So it goes. I was a late bloomer anyway and wouldn’t have known what to do with any more girls around….

I’m going to wade through your entire site and the specific links you’ve sent when I have a chance. I also plan on blogging everything you’ve sent me, not only for its content but also for the wonderfully endearing and humorous quality of your prose.

By the way, could you send pix of your discoveries, such as the unknown Wisconsin artist? Contrary to the prevailing opinion that for me there’s only Picasso, I have quite varied artistic tastes, and I’m always interested in beholding new talent….

And, dude, call me Kobi!